- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

BALTIMORE — Jack Wright, a boatswain on a destroyer sunk in the D-Day invasion, fought back tears as he stood aboard the SS John W. Brown yesterday for a memorial service marking the 60th anniversary of the climactic battle of World War II.

“I got to be honest with you,” Mr. Wright said, describing his experiences in the June 6, 1944, assault on Normandy’s beaches, where Allied forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties with more than 4,000 killed. “It brings back bad memories.”

Mr. Wright, 80, recalled how, after the USS Corry struck a mine and went down, he struggled to stay afloat in the cold waters of the English Channel. Artillery pounded the sea as he and a shipmates clung to a large floatation ring.

When a shell exploded nearby, the men called out to each other, signaling they were all right. But a lieutenant beside Mr. Wright was silent — he had been fatally hit. “He couldn’t answer,” Mr. Wright said as tears filled his eyes and his voice cracked.

Sixty years later, Mr. Wright still is haunted by the carnage he witnessed on D-Day. “I would tell you a lot more,” he said, “but I won’t sleep tonight already.”

Mr. Wright and a half-dozen other World War II veterans attended the memorial service on the forward deck of the Brown, a 441-foot merchant marine freighter maintained and operated by a nonprofit group as a memorial and museum.

The Brown is the oldest operational World War II Liberty Ship and one of only two in existence. It was docked last week in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, not far from its permanent port near the city’s Canton neighborhood.

The other surviving Liberty Ship — a class of utilitarian cargo ships hurriedly built during World War II and manned by civilian merchant marines to supply the war effort — is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco.

The ceremony yesterday aboard the Brown commemorated the D-Day anniversary, paid tribute to the wartime contributions of the nation’s merchant marines and honored veterans and fallen soldiers of every American conflict.

About 640 American merchant vessels similar to the Brown participated in D-Day, the code name given to the invasion date for Operation Overlord. It remains history’s largest air, land and sea operation, with more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and 150,000 men involved in the beach landing.

George H. Macey, a Navy gunners mate serving on a merchant marine tanker in World War II, was off the coast of Normandy on D-Day but not directly involved in the invasion.

Standing beside the gunnery platform at the bow of the Brown yesterday, Mr. Macey remembered the fighters and bombers that crowded the sky 60 years ago, and having the sense that history was being made.

“The sky was black with aircraft, every type of airplane you can imagine,” said Mr. Macey, 80. He spoke wearily about the death toll that day, and then he expressed fear that his history is being lost.

“The younger generation has no idea what went on,” Mr. Macey said. “They don’t teach it in schools anymore. It is kind of sad that the information is just going down the drain.”

Organizers of the memorial service said they hoped such observances and the living history preserved onboard the Liberty Ship would serve to instruct the young as well as honor the sacrifices of an aging generation.

The service included messages of faith from religious leaders and the ceremonial dropping of a wreath into the harbor, followed by a rifle salute, the playing of taps by a bugler and a benediction prayer.

Stardust Memories, a 1940s-style female a cappella quartet, sang patriotic songs such as “God Bless America” for the crowd of about 150 people, mostly sightseers touring the old ship.

Joseph C. Colgan, a Navy commander in World War II and the master of ceremonies at yesterday’s memorial service, said the religious and patriotic observance was intended not only to honor D-Day veterans but all American veterans, and the 1.2 million soldiers killed in combat since the Revolutionary War.

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